Brand repositioning is an invaluable tool for any business faced with a changing industry or dynamic marketplace.
And with the everchanging nature of the world at large these days, this includes most businesses.
The fact is, when the landscape in which your business operates shifts in any meaningful way, so does the way your customers perceive you.
Brand positioning enables you to correct for this misalignment, reshaping the way your customers perceive you—for the better.
In what follows, we take a look at exactly what we mean by brand repositioning, how and why to reposition your brand, and a few brand repositioning examples in the world’s biggest brands.
- What is Brand Repositioning?
- When to Consider Repositioning Your Brand
- Types of Repositioning Strategies
- How to Reposition Your Brand
- Common Brand Repositioning Pitfalls to Avoid
- Brand Repositioning Examples
- The Takeaway
What is Brand Repositioning?
Brand repositioning is the process of reshaping a target audience’s perception of a company, product, or service.
Seeing as how brands are all about perceptions, it stands to reason that brand repositioning essentially boils down to adjusting perceptions.
Reshaping customer perceptions through brand repositioning essentially entails reclaiming the narrative around your company or offering. It enables you to reframe associations with your brand, and redefine the position you occupy within the competitive landscape. This makes brand repositioning an important tool in the broader context of brand strategy.
When to Consider Repositioning Your Brand
As we’ve already seen, brand repositioning is a strategic response to some sort of change facing a business. There are many scenarios where repositioning your brand is the best course of action.
From targeting a new audience to adjusting your business model, any significant evolution in your business strategy should be accompanied by repositioning your brand.
Your Brand Is No Longer Relevant
When it comes to branding, relevance is a metric of how well your brand meets the needs and challenges of customers. The minute your brand fails to adequately meet customers’ needs is the minute it is no longer relevant.
Loss of relevance can be caused by industry changes, technological evolutions, or increased competition, but whatever the reason, reframing the way customers perceive your brand is the most effective way to regain relevance in their eyes.
You’re Targeting a New Audience
Whether it’s because of a new product release, a strategic adjustment, or expansion into a new market, there comes a time when your current audience or audiences are no longer sufficient.
Targeting a new audience means targeting a new set of needs, challenges, and motivations. That entails repositioning your brand to ensure it is relevant and meaningful to the new target audience.
Your Industry Has Changed
Industries these days are changing by the minute. As technology evolves, so do industry solutions, compelling businesses to adapt or be left behind.
If digital transformation or product innovation has fundamentally altered your industry, brand repositioning should be integral to your business’s response. Repositioning your brand ensures your customers perceive you as ahead of the curve instead of out of step with an evolving vertical.
Your Products or Services Have Evolved
The key to running a growing business is the evolution of products and services. Whether because of technological advancements or increased bandwidth, the products or services you offer today might be substantially different than those you offered just a few years ago.
In order to get the most out of the evolution of your products or services, it’s critical that your brand positioning keeps pace with them. Repositioning your brand ensures that customer perceptions align with the full scope and capabilities of your offerings.
Your Business Model Has Changed
More fundamental than the evolution of products or services is a change to your business model itself. The global pandemic led many businesses to shift to a digital-first model to meet the changing needs of customers spending less time in stores and more time at home.
It’s this type of business model change that necessitates brand repositioning. The benefits and differentiators that define an in-person business are far different than those that define an online one. Repositioning your brand ensures your customers associate you with the former.
You’re Facing Increased Competition
Few changes facing a business are more threatening than increased competition. If the market landscape in which your business operates has seen an influx of brands offering similar products or services, it’s essential that customer perceptions are aligned with the unique scope and caliber of your offerings.
Brand repositioning allows you to clearly articulate why your brand is superior to its competitors, giving you a leg up in an increasingly crowded landscape.
Your Sales Numbers are Decreasing
The fact is, if your sales have dropped off, it’s often because your customers no longer perceive you as the best solution to their specific needs and challenges.
You can solve for this misperception by changing your products or services, or by changing the way customers perceive them. The latter is almost always the more cost-effective and efficient solution to what can be an existential crisis in the making.
You’re Looking to Be Acquired
If you’re looking to exit a business, your objective is to sell that business at the highest possible multiple. And brand repositioning is one of the best ways to build brand equity and boost the value of your business.
Just as you would detail your car before selling it, repositioning your brand is an opportunity to ensure it is aimed precisely at the most lucrative audience possible—as a premium solution to their unique needs and challenges
Types of Repositioning Strategies
We’ve seen how brand repositioning is the process of reshaping customer perceptions. To understand repositioning strategies, you have to look at the two entities involved in customer perceptions.
There is the customer themself and there is the thing they are perceiving: the company, product, or service. The four different repositioning strategies are defined by which of these entities is changing, necessitating the repositioning.
Image repositioning is the strategy taken when neither the customer nor the product or service has changed. Instead, only the image of the company has changed. Image repositioning involves changing customer perceptions without material changes to the company, product or service that they’re perceiving.
Product or Service Repositioning
As its name suggests, product or service repositioning is when a product or service changes but its target audience remains the same. This is often the result of technological innovations that fundamentally improve a product or service, necessitating its repositioning in the eyes of its target audience.
Intangible repositioning involves the targeting of an entirely new audience with the same product or service. If your business is looking to expand into new markets without changing your products or services, intangible repositioning is required to ensure those products or services are relevant to the new audience.
Finally, tangible repositioning is the most drastic type of repositioning, and hence involves the most amount of risk. When both your product or service and your target audience are changed, tangible repositioning is required. If your product or service is no longer relevant to your existing audience, sometimes a change to both your offering and your audience is needed.
How to Reposition Your Brand
If you’re still reading at this point, you’re probably wondering how you can reposition your own brand to account for one or more of the changes we’ve covered.
Repositioning your brand is a strategic process that should be undertaken with care and deliberation. Following the steps outlined below and keeping an eye out for the pitfalls listed in the following section is the best way to ensure your repositioning project is successful.
1. Identify the Problem Your Product or Service is Designed to Solve
The first step of any repositioning initiative is to take a step back and think strategically about your company’s offerings.
Ask yourself: “what is the unique problem our customers are facing that we created this product or service to solve?” This may seem like an obvious question to answer, but you’d be surprised how many brands have lost sight of this fundamental proposition.
Clearly articulating an answer to this question around which key stakeholders are aligned allows you to confidently move on to step two in the repositioning process.
2. Identify the Customer Who Most Needs That Solution
Now that you’ve defined the problem you are solving, it’s time to identify the customer for whom the problem is most relevant. The most effective way to do this is with brand research.
Customer surveys allow you to ask specific questions about the needs and challenges of a variety of different customers. Identifying your ideal customer among the group can be accomplished by processing the data to see which type of customer’s problems align most closely with the problems your product or service is designed to solve.
Identify both the demographic characteristics of your ideal customer (age, location, company type, job role) as well as the other needs and challenges they have beyond the problem your offering solves.
3. Understand How Customers Think About the Problem
Simply identifying your ideal customer is only half the battle, of course. You also need to understand how that customer thinks about the problem that your product or service was designed to solve.
In-depth customer interviews are the best way to get at this kind of information. How does the problem affect your customers’ lives? What other ways have they tried to solve it?
Understanding how your customers think about the problem your product or service was designed to solve gives you the fodder you need to move on to the next step in the repositioning process: articulating the unique ways you solve it.
4. Articulate How Your Product or Service Solves the Problem
Clearly explaining how your product or service solves your ideal customer’s most pressing problem is where the repositioning rubber meets the road.
This is the process of adjusting your brand positioning framework, so that positioning messaging precisely addresses the problem you’ve identified.
Positioning messaging includes everything from your brand benefits to your competitive differentiation to your brand promise. Use the insights you’ve gleaned from steps two and three to create messaging that is laser targeted toward the specific problems of a hyper-focused target audience.
5. Tell Compelling Stories About Solving the Problem
The final step in the brand repositioning process is brand activation, bringing your newly repositioned brand to the world in a way that will resonate with customers.
The best way to convey the benefits of a newly repositioned brand is through compelling stories illustrating how your product or service solves the unique problem you identified in step one.
Compelling stories do more than just enumerate the features and benefits of a product or service.
Compelling stories describe a pain point with which customers can relate on a meaningful level, and explain how a product or service has alleviated that pain point in unique and easy-to-integrate ways. They tap into deep-seated emotions with the time-tested tool of narrative.
Common Brand Repositioning Pitfalls to Avoid
Like most things in branding (and business in general, for that matter) there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach brand repositioning.
Following the process outlined above is a good start to repositioning done right. But keeping an eye out to avoid the following common pitfalls will ensure your repositioning project doesn’t go off the rails.
Skipping the Brand Research
As we’ve mentioned many times by now, brand repositioning is all about reshaping customer perceptions. And in order to reshape customer perceptions, you first have to understand them. Only brand research can give you this understanding, which makes it such an indispensable step in the process.
Overpromising with Unrealistic Positioning
Every business wants their products or services to be positioned as the best in their class, but it’s important not to go overboard when it comes to repositioning. Craft positioning that is slightly aspirational, so that your brand has some room to grow, but that can actually be backed up by real-world performance. The worst thing a brand can do is promise something it can’t actually deliver on.
Repositioning Too Drastically
There’s a tendency for businesses to over-correct when it comes to repositioning, misjudging the gap between how they’re currently perceived and how they want to be perceived. Sometimes a slight adjustment in positioning is all that is needed. Oftentimes it’s a matter of getting back to the positioning you initially intended but have veered off course from due to mismanagement or poor marketing. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken if a little polish and refocusing is all that is needed.
Creating Confusion Between Old and New Positioning
Brand repositioning involves moving away from old positioning that had resulted in inaccurate customer perceptions. But oftentimes, remnants of that old positioning remain in the ecosystem of brand communications. The objective is not to confuse the two. A clear line should be drawn between old and new positioning and efforts should be made to phase out outdated messaging wherever possible.
Brand Repositioning Examples
As always, the best way to understand how brand repositioning works is to see how some of the world’s top brands have repositioned themselves over the years. Let’s take a look at three such brand repositioning examples that will likely be familiar.
More than any other industry, fashion brands either remain relevant or fall by the wayside of consumer demand. In the mid-aughts, Gucci was facing just such a crisis of relevance, as its traditional audience aged out of the most enviable demographic.
In a bid to pivot to appeal to Millennials, the brand deftly repositioned toward a more modern take on its Italian-style heritage. By refreshing its logo, conscripting a fresh crop of eminently cool celebrity ambassadors, and embracing Instagram as a communications channel, Gucci was able to reclaim relevance in a way that other high fashion brands are still trying to emulate.
Starbucks original positioning as the “third place” between work and home redefined daily life for a generation of Americans. But rapid expansion took a toll on the quality of the Starbucks experience, and when the Great Recession hit in 2008, consumers were happy to turn to cheaper alternatives to get their daily buzz.
Starbucks’ answer was to reposition by reasserting itself as the benchmark for quality coffee and authentic experiences. Its “coffee value and values” campaign was launched to remind customers that Starbucks was worth the extra cost. Coupled with a rededication to customer service, the brand’s repositioning spoke to its customers’ desire to treat themselves to a comfortable, quality experience, even if it cost a little bit more.
In perhaps the most memorable brand repositioning of the 21st century, Old Spice set out to reshape customer perceptions—from something only your dad would use to something with a distinctly relevant, if sometimes bizarre, cultural cachet.
In a series of commercials that first aired in 2010, Old Spice used hilarious non-sequiturs coupled with deadpan delivery—from spokesmen including NFL player Isaiah Mustafa to Fabio—to establish itself as the go-to brand for the freshest advertising around. In the meantime, sales of its deodorant and body wash saw double-digit percentage increases.
The strategic process of reshaping customer perceptions, brand repositioning is something most businesses will need to do at some point in their existence. Whether because of a shifting industry or growing competition, the positioning your brand starts can’t always weather the trends of a changing marketplace.
As the world becomes ever more dynamic, so do the needs and challenges of your customers. Brand repositioning is the best way to ensure your brand remains relevant in their eyes.